Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The London Riots from a gang member's perspective

Update: To be clear, I have no connection with any gangs whatsoever. The following is my personal take on the London Riots, informed by conversations I have had in the past about crowd mentality and gang behaviour, with people who had first hand experience.

When I was 19 I met a boy. Handsome, clever, with jet-black hair and olive skin, a pensive 16 year old boy called Chris. I remember being fascinated by his eyes: at a glance, a warm deep brown. But as we talked, all I could see was a hollowness, pain, loneliness, anger, desperation.

When I asked him where he was from, he told me the name of his gang.

Not his hometown, his neighbourhood, or the city where he had spent most of his life, or even where his parents were originally from, but his gang. The people who had shaped his life, who had given it meaning. The people who “had his back”, who would die for him. Who meant more to him than family, who had provided for him when society had failed him.

We walked along outside, snow crunching beneath our feet, careful to stay within the confines of the detention centre where hours earlier I had registered as a rare Christmas visitor.

He told me of the addictive buzz of empowerment that came with running with a gang, with a crowd of fearless boys, who all believed they had nothing to lose.

Of the adrenaline rush and the tingling that came with flouting society’s rules and knowing there would be no consequences.

Of standing up in front of the police, people you’ve been taught you should fear, and seeing the fear in their eyes instead, knowing they are powerless to harm you until you’ve harmed them first. Knowing there is nothing they can do to you that you haven’t already lived through. Feeling invincible.

We spoke of the value of property, of possessions. For him, nothing had value. Everything can be bought, or stolen. Stealing from the middle classes or vandalising their homes was in his mind a victimless crime – after all, they have insurance and not only can they get their stolen property replaced, but in his eyes they would end up with something brand new. It’s win-win, he said.

What about keepsakes? I asked. Photographs? He looked puzzled. I had to remind myself that this was a boy who believed nobody in the world loved him, nobody cared about him besides the boys who stuck by him. Why would he need photographs of them – he saw them every day. His emotional attachment even to them felt guarded – he was well aware that many of his friends would end up under ground or behind bars at a frighteningly young age.

Thinking back now about the day I spent with Chris, I feel I have a different perspective on the London riots than the people around me.

There are those who are appalled by the opportunistic looting, appalled that these kids would break through a shop’s windows and steal things, that they would vandalise property. I am appalled too, but unsurprised. Let’s remind ourselves that many of these kids come from an environment not dissimilar to Chris’. Vandalism isn’t new to them, theft isn’t new to them, it’s around them every day. If it isn’t necessarily the norm, it’s frighteningly commonplace.

That barrier simply isn’t there.

The empathy we feel with the shopkeepers and small businesses who have lost everything to the fires: how would this translate to a young lad raised in poverty or generations of unemployment? For many, owning a business feels about as attainable as owning a dragon, and they see only the financial impact – remedied by insurance companies – rather than the emotional impact on the owners. They don’t have any reference point to understand what it means to risk your savings, to toil for 16 hours a day to keep a small business afloat in a recession.

The shocking photographs of rioters throwing bricks and burning timber at the police. Many of us see a brave person standing there, a family man perhaps, working hard and risking his life for not enough pay. A real person. The knowledge that Chris and his friends would have instead seen a faceless shape in riot gear, powerless to stop a growing swarm of rioters, saddens me.

The “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” mentality that hooks otherwise good kids or makes them feel powerless to say no to getting involved, gives me a sense of powerlessness too.

There is a depressing irony to the fact that the adrenaline rush, the buzz of overwhelming excitement that came with being part of a massive crowd for positive achievements – my Total Wipeout auditions for example – is the same thing fuelling the rioters. By nature a shy person, with adrenaline coursing through my veins and a crowd shouting my name, there I was hamming it up and performing for the crowd – so unlike me that I felt possessed, powerful, invigorated. It was better, more addictive than any drug.

Is it really possible that smashing up London with an energised crowd feels the same? That otherwise good kids are being swept into the frenzy by this incredible feeling?

Is it really possible that this is the only way they feel they can make their mark on the world?

Your comments, thoughts and experience of the London riots are most welcome.

image from Dave Hill's London Blog at The Guardian, "Things I believe about London Riots"

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

What happens when preschoolers fend for themselves

The fact that just the trailer for Toy Story 3 makes me well up is bad enough, but what is really worrying is the fact that it's on in the first place, at 8 a.m. on a sunny weekday morning. Normally the children would be having a bouncing competition on our fading mini trampoline, or bundling each other in the garden, dangerously close to those frighteningly sharp rocks we've added as decoration.Or Danger Boy would be living up to his name by dangling from the top of the fence by his fingertips, or trying to gallop down our stone steps on that ridiculous unicorn hobby horse.

Today's different, though.

Having had pneumonia for the past few weeks, I have given up all interest in moving around or getting involved in what the kids are up to. It's just too hard work, and leaves me breathless and lightheaded, especially on a humid day like today.

More or less fending for themselves, the children alternate between playing really sweet imaginative games together and some craziness that looks like a scene from Lord of the Flies.

Far from the ultra-stylish-Vertbaudet-catalogue children, my two have dressed themselves and combed their own hair and it shows. Mads is wearing pink, pink and more pink, and apparently pattern-clashing is all the rage.

Danger Boy's outfit is actually improved upon by the costume rat-tail he's found in the dressing up box and one multi-coloured legwarmer.

Their little fingers and faces are grubby from climbing trees and digging in the garden to look for slugs. Or so they tell me - the mention of the slugs has meant that I can no longer bear to go to that bit of the garden.

They smell like a faintly heady combination of sweet baby sweat, cheese-pasta and mint, the mint because they are obsessively rubbing my fresh mint leaves to release the oils.

Danger Boy has a little bit of a shine to him, one arm covered in dried purple glitter glue.

Of course all of this is totally normal.

What's different is that we normally have a very small TV diet, consisting of a few stolen minutes of Peppa Pig of Mr Tumble, or occasionally a bit of one of our Disney movies. Since I've been ill, however, the kids have put themselves in charge of all technology in the house and are now fully in control of the TV and DVD player, and to be honest I can do nothing more about it than flop on the sofa beside them.

Having had 3 weeks to study our Disney films in depth, Mads is now educating Danger Boy:

When you press the triangle button, the movie doesn't start just yet. First they need to tell you all the things you can buy, and then you can watch the movie.

Tinkerbell is at the start of all the Disney movies because she is a Disney character and she is the best one. And because it's easier for her because she can fly.

I am going to go to that Disney castle. You can't go because you're only little. Mummy went but she told us she didn't go. She said she went to France, didn't she, but really she went to Disney. (Ooops. I hoped they wouldn't pick up on that!!)

The start is very nice and funny, so you can watch it with me. But then when it's going to get to a scary bit, like maybe the Baddie, or the Stabbington Brothers, then you have to get a pillow and hide under it, or you have to get mummy. But you won't miss anything because I can put it on pause. Just tell me when it's scary and I will press the one with the two lines. 

Oh good, so at least I am not totally obsolete. If Danger Boy doesn't go for the Pillow option, that is.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

London Mum takes part in the world's largest Zumba class to raise money for children's charity

At last, the long awaited proof that I really did take part in the world's largest Zumba class!

Hopefully my little video will amuse and entertain you, but there are some important take home messages too:

1) Always pull in ("engage") your tummy while exercising, especially if you are planning to shoot video clips from a weird upwards angle.

2) Fluorescent greenish-yellow ra-ra skirts are all the rage, apparently. You must go out and get one immediately.

3) Always wear 50+ sunblock for outdoor exercise if the dress you are wearing to next week's Christening doesn't have precisely the same neckline as your pink lycra top. D'OH!

Thanks for watching, and remember, if you love it, please leave a comment and share it with your friends!

I took part in the event to raise money for a wonderful children's charity called Shooting Star CHASE, helping care for children who are not expected to make it to their 19th birthday. Truly a deserving cause, so please give generously, and help spread the word about their charity by sharing this video.

Photos by iDJ Photography

Many thanks to Zumbawear UK  for organising such a great day out.  

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

What are little boys made of?

SlugMads was looking through one of the books that Grandpa gave her when he came to visit in the Autumn. Along with his three or four items of clothing, he had brought along an entire suitcase of knitted accessories from the ladies at his Senior’s club, and a stack of children’s books that had been on sale at his local public library.

Fascinated by the detailed illustrations in this book of classic nursery rhymes, Mads was leafing through it, bursting into song whenever she recognised a nursery rhyme from the pictures in the book.

She was frowning intently at “What are little boys made of?” and asked me “How does it go again?”, so I came over and read it aloud.

Me: “… slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails, that’s what little boys are made of.

Mads: “Well, they aren’t really.

Me: “Erm, no, they aren’t really. The person who wrote the rhyme was just being silly.

Mads: “Yes, that’s very silly, isn’t it mummy. Boys aren’t made of all those things. Everybody knows they’re made out of bones…. and skin….. and lots of lungs.”

Friday, 27 May 2011

Of bunk beds and big brothers

When we were little, my older brother and I shared a room. We had a wooden bunk bed, a deep reddish-brown varnished pine, with streaks of pale yellow where I had gnawed on the rounded bed posts.

I remember the bitter taste of the varnish and the hint of the pine. Bedpost gnawing was a curious obsession for me, satisfying as picking at a scab, or popping bubble wrap, and much more annoying for my mother.

The top bunk had a wooden bar across the side to prevent my brother from falling out, although he was never really the type to wiggle about much. I am a fidgeter to this day, a blanket stealer, a stuck-upside-down-wedged-between-the-wall-and-bed type.

I would have needed a cage to stop me from falling out.

From the comfort of my lower bunk I could stretch my legs up and tuck my feet between the slats, flexing and pointing my feet. The effect for my big brother was a sort of bedtime Chinese water torture as he tried desperately to fall asleep with his mattress moving about and my bony feet digging into his spine. I would think years of tolerating my bedtime antics might be what made him the patient, tolerant man he is today, although he has yet to thank me.

My mother hasn’t thanked me either for the near heart-attacks I gave her with my bunk bed acrobatics. With her over-exuberant grandchildren she is cool as a cucumber, never rising to their attention-seeking tricks. Having watched me turn somersaults and flips on the top bunk as a toddler, she had ample opportunity to practice keeping her calm while quietly working out how to extract me from my brother’s bed and possibly consider (but thankfully reject) tying my leg to a post in the garden. I would have preferred the bed post anyway, purely for the acrid varnishy taste. Anyhow, surely practice makes perfect, so I take full credit for my mum’s success in her career in early childhood education.

It's Yurt Time!

Tonight, I can hear my own kids giggling and sneaking around, overexcited by the bunk beds we have found ourselves with at Nana's cottage in the Yorkshire Dales. I can hear Mads going up and down the ladder, probably choosing more and more books and teddy bears to tuck into bed with them. Danger Boy’s excited pitter patter is so easy to recognise – he is no doubt racing around the room, gathering loose change to put in his pockets for tomorrow.

It’s 8:30, over an hour past their bedtime, and normally they are tucked up in bed with very little fuss. Part of me wants to stomp up the stairs and tell them to hush up and go to sleep…. But this playful, nostalgic side of me tells me not to interfere.

One day, they’ll be all grown up, living on different continents, perhaps with a phone call every 6 months and the occasional card. The more I interfere, the more those phone calls will be stilted conversations about their respective jobs, not like my brother and I who can dive straight into a relaxed banter, laughing at the most mundane of things.

What makes us able to connect even now? It’s shared memories of moments like this, of shared laughter as we clambered up and down the ladder, leaping onto a nest of pillows from halfway up. The delicious feeling of conspiracy as we shut our eyes tightly and pretended to be asleep whenever my mum came into the room.

And so I’ll give them another moment to enjoy it, and then do my job and stomp up the stairs.

Image courtesy of Valentina Powers on Flickr

Friday, 20 May 2011

A girl's imagination runs wild

Four year old Mads has been having trouble getting to sleep lately. She starts drifting off, then explodes into an over-excited state, fidgeting around, rearranging her room, re-aligning all of the stuffed bears who perch atop the battered old red sofabed we keep in her bedroom.

Manon maladeShe selects a different stuffed animal every night, chats away to it, brushes its fur, and tucks it neatly into her bed. She tries to squeeze in beside it, and as it tumbles out she starts the whole process again. Then it’s time for another sip of water, another wee, another book to look at. Then the label on her nightie is “noying” her, then she can’t get her duvet to lie flat on the bed and “it doesn’t look pretty”. Then her pillow needs fluffing.

This fidgeting around only used to take a couple of minutes but these days it is really dragging on.

Just like me, she’s unable to quiet her mind before bed, and I’m sure she is doomed to a lifetime of lying wide awake in bed praying for sleep to come, and cursing her vivid imagination come morning.

I decided to try and give her some hints for quieting her mind. Although what do I know? I think my brain functions best at 2 a.m. and am cursed with living in a society that expects me (needs me) to be up at 7. Well, 7:30 (thanks hubby).

Anyhow, my trick for luring my brain into a state ready for sleep is to hum the intro to the Spiderman cartoon from the 80s while picturing the web spinning around and around just as it did on TV. The effect is that I feel somewhat dizzy and a little bored by the monotony of only ever remembering the first few bars of the music.

But a definite side effect is that I am certainly not trying to work out some bizarre mathematical equation in my head, or trying to think of a Geek Joke to top Dino's annoyingly clever [hip,hip] joke. Or trying to work out the solution to an unknown bug in my amateur PHP code on my main blog about everything child friendly. Or trying to calculate the ideal number of seconds for fade out of the intro music on my video tutorial for British Mummy Bloggers (BritMums). You get the picture.

Weird geeky brain buzzing temporarily blotted out, I occasionally fall asleep. It works at least 10% of the time, so in my books a shining success.

I tried to teach this extremely useful trick to my four year old daughter.

Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t actually try and make her learn the first few bars of the Spiderman cartoon intro track, nor did I admit my 10% success rate. I shared my Sure (ish) Route to Sound Sleep advice with my little girl, smiling slightly smugly with the knowledge that she would take my advice to heart, and that it would transform her sleep forever.

My four year old girl then looked at me with roll-your-eyes exasperation, and said with the wisdom sometimes only a four year old can have:

“Mummy, my imagination is just too busy. I can’t make it imagine something boring, it just imagines whatever it wants to imagine. So I just have to wait until it’s finished and then I can go to sleep.”

Image courtesy of Spigoo on Flickr.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The one where I tackle the taboo subject of sex after children [video]

Before you watch this video I have to confess that I am terribly embarassed about putting this on my blog. It's a delicate subject, after all. Ever up for a challenge, though, I thought I would give the BritMums "Sex after children" vlog prompt a whirl, and have focused on the very essence of the art of foreplay for parents with young children.

So here it is, in all its glory. Starring Bex as me, and me as a slightly generic Dad. Be warned, there's not much in the way of talking.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

How to make Annabel Karmel's Pig Watermelon with sticky fingered toddlers helping

When celebrity chef Annabel Karmel challenged me to create a Pig Watermelon with my children, there was simply no way I was ever going to turn her down. After all, I'm creative and pretty skilled with a melon baller thanks to my experience making 150 perfectly round dark chocolate truffles for my local Women's Institute.

image courtesy Annabel Karmel
In her new book, Annabels' Kitchen: My First Cookbook, the Pig Watermelon looks so summery, scrumptious and fun, and above all easy to make. We didn't have all of the ingredients, but we did have a perfectly ripe watermelon, so thought we could produce a close approximation. Perfect for enjoying the hottest April on record with 3 preschoolers and 2 toddlers as my little helpers, right?

Well, let's just say that with the guidance of our mini helpers, our pig ended up looking more like a vaguely sinister Manga Rabbit... but we thought we could work with that, it being Easter and all.

Most of the irresistably bright pink melon balls had been licked by at least one toddler before being carefully placed back in the watermelon, and the five kids and my entire dining room table were covered in watermelon juice and little sticky pink handprints by the time we were finished.

Incredibly pleased with their independence, our children grinned and chatted all the way through the making of our Pig Watermelon / Creepy Manga Rabbit. I know from Danger Boy's post-war-style butter sandwiches (ugh) how much he loves helping me prepare meals, and I guess the same goes for most children. The older ones helped the littler ones scoop out the melon, and everyone took turns without a fuss. My friend (a local mum) and I took a step back every now and then to just observe and absorb their happiness, their utter contentment.

So while I'm a teensy bit jealous that MummyTips' Pig Watermelon and Thinly Spread's Pig Watermelon both look like they belong in a magazine (they did have much older helpers after all!), I think ours was a great success.

Annabel's Kitchen: My First Cookbook (as seen on ITV) has lots of great recipes and ideas for getting your children involved in the kitchen. 

The toddlers especially liked helping with (and eating) the Bagel Snake, Oriental Plum Chicken Wraps and Far-Too-Easy-Banana-Ice-Cream. The Salmon Lollipops and Animal Cupcakes were a massive hit with the preschoolers.

Click here to buy your own copy of Annabel's Kitchen: My First Cookbook.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The end of the end. My rear end that is.

totally not mine
Not that I'm bragging, but I once had a very fine rear end indeed. It was a head turner, for sure, and almost definitely the reason my husband was hooked, if not the reason he proposed. A good few months into my first pregnancy, though, I spotted a problem.

I forsaw the end of my end, so to speak.

Somewhere along the way, my body had started to use completely different muscles to accommodate my changing shape. Abs were a lost cause, that much was to be expected... but my glutes? Oh no! So 2 babies later, I find myself feeling young at heart but stuck with Mono Bum, seemingly about a foot lower than it used to be. Think you don't know Mono Bum? Next time you're standing in the queue for the post office, (discreetly) check out all the little old ladies in their tan slacks. Ergh.

Anyhow, as there doesn't seem to be a wonderbra for post-baby Mono Bum, I've opted for good old fashioned exercise to see if that will get everything back where it belongs.

Never one to do anything in moderation, I've decided to give my "Goodbye Mono Bum" (do you think Elton John will mind if I use that in a song?) exercise regime a bit of a kick start with the Zumba-thon.

I reckon if I train well enough to get through 3 hours of crazy aerobic latin dancing without the assistance of Jagerbombs, then surely a side-effect might be that I can once again wear my favourite Replay jeans without the horrible squoosh effect.

If you're up for joining my zumbathon team, or giving me enough sponsorship to entice me to create a photo-time-lapse post of Mono Bum's progress, then get in touch!!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Easter Mayhem in the ReallyKidFriendly House

I've asked some small and very over-excited people in my house to help with this little vlog about our Easter plans. Apparently the most exciting thing we'll be doing is sleeping in bunk beds - Skipton Castle, the Forbidden Corner and Bolton Abbey don't even get a mention!

Warning: Tiger Moms might find my childrens' behaviour (and the fact that I appear totally oblivious to it) somewhat distressing.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

A glimpse of the real me!

Oh dear, I've been tagged by Jennifer Howze from Jenography in a "meme" inspired by The Guardian weekend Q&A and feel compelled to respond. For those of you who don't know her, pop over to her blog, Jenography. Methinks you'll recognise her writing style from her AlphaMummy column at The Times.

I hope you enjoy this glimpse of the real me...

When were you happiest?
Nepal - Sagamartha Trek - Ngozumba Gl from Gokyo Ri
the view from Gokyo Ri (yes, that's Everest in the distance)

I had one of the happiest days of my life on my 25th birthday. My friend Megan and I had been hiking in Nepal for a few weeks, having accidentally started our hike 9 days walk away from the start of the trail (doh!). We had a "rest day" to acclimatise before the final push up to Gokyo Ri, so we relaxed by body-tobogganing and making snow angels on the pristine mountainsides, much to the amusement of the Nepali children watching from below. Birthday supplies being limited, Megan sang me Happy Birthday and made me blow out our Emergency Candle.

What was your most embarrassing moment?
Splitting my trousers while playing baseball when I was in school.

Aside from property, what’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought?
My wedding dress!

What is your most treasured possession?
Am I allowed to say my iPhone? Is that really horrible? OK, then, my scruffy little white bear from when I was little - he has since taken up residence in my daughter's room. His official name was Charity Bear, but I call him Char.

Where would you like to live?
Easy -  Montreal.

What’s your favourite smell?
mint julep
bourbon, my favourite smell
Kouros. Ha ha. No... I think it has to be either be the minted bourbon smell of a Mint Julep, or my Auntie Rosita's cooking. She makes a mean prawn curry.

Who would play you in the film of your life?
Oh, I would love to play it myself!! My husband would like me to be played by Kate Beckinsale, with him starring as himself.

What is your favourite book?
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.

What is your most unappealing habit?
Gosh, I've got loads. Clicking my neck seems to freak most people out though.

What would be your fancy dress costume of choice?
I'm still in love with my silver Vanessa Kensington outfit. Shame I can't fit into it anymore!

What is your earliest memory?
I don't know! I used to think it was when I was walking backwards and bumped into Mr Snuffalufagus, but my mother claims I've mixed that memory with my favourite TV show.

guilty pleasure
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Tony Soprano.

What do you owe your parents?
My inability to say no to anything! It makes for great adventures and lovely surprises that would never otherwise be possible.

To whom would you like to say sorry, and why?
To anyone I've even given that famous cold stare to. And to my big brother for kicking him in the head that one time.

What does love feel like?
Complicated and easy, comforting and painful, all at the same time.

What was the best kiss of your life?
It's a secret! It was so good though that just the thought still makes my knees go weak.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
"I'm going to count to three..." and "ummm..yeah."

What is the worst job you have ever done?
Hot Dog Cart on Fifth Ave
This is not me! But it could well have been.
I sold hot dogs from one of those little carts in downtown Winnipeg when I was about 15. I hadn't learned how to cook yet and had never operated a BBQ before in my life, so goodness knows how many people got food poisoning.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
Most of the time I would say everything. But then I wonder how different a person I would have become... so maybe nothing. Don't know.

What is the closest you have come to death?
Too close for comfort, at a party about 10 years ago.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Playing music in front of people, despite a pathological fear of public performance! You can read more about my little musical interlude here, or watch some videos here!

When did you last cry and why?
A few weeks ago, coming home from seeing my friend in hospital after he was attacked.

How do you relax?
Fun dance classes like Zumba and Freez.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
More hours in the day.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Saying yes, even when you're uncertain, opens doors and creates opportunities you wouldn't otherwise have had.

And with that, I'm passing this meme onto..

It's A Mummy's Life
Marketing to Milk
Mediocre Mum

Friday, 8 April 2011

Do you blog for Google or for your audience?

Little old me, chatting about why I started blogging, why blogging for Google works well but is incredibly dull, and why blogging about fun, interesting stuff made me super happy at the playground last month.

Oh, I should mention that it's my first ever "vlog", and British Mummy Bloggers made me do it. Even though they know I am not british, don't know how to apply make-up (to look good on camera!) or speak with a proper accent, and that I say "um" and "you know" a lot. So, um, have fun watching!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Me, the most highly qualified high school drop-out ever

I never finished school. Ahem. The long and brutally honest version of the story involves me being whisked away in the night from real live monsters to a turbulent world of shelters, hand-to-mouth living, a new name and identity. Think The Thompsons episode of The Simpsons, but without the splendid rendition of Little Buttercup from The Pirates of Penzance.

In such circumstances, secondary education becomes secondary.

The sanitised version of the story is that I lost my way, and through hard work and blind luck made it into an Alan Sugar type thing, but without the millions (there's still time, though, so fingers crossed!)? This is the version most people get - the more honest story leaves them shifting from foot to foot, unsure about whether they need to give me a big hug or run a mile in the other direction.

More on that later.

Tara's theme for The Gallery this week is Education, so I've dug around to find a picture of me from my school days. Here I am about to turn 9, looking pretty much exactly how I do now, but with what for me counts as "dead straight hair".

I was the shortest person in my class by at least a foot, but was a seriously quick little thing on the soccer field and a fearless player. My best subjects at that age were Spelling, Art, and French.  In gymnastics I was mediocre at best, but always enthusiastic, and was one of the few who could shimmy up the rope to the gym's ceiling. I played shortstop on our school baseball team, and when we won, our coach (a.k.a. the Cool Girl's step-dad) treated us to chocolate milkshakes.

I was a Patrol at school, meaning I had to leave class early to don my reflective uniform and stand in the road to help the little ones cross safely.  My School Patrol team got treated to a pancake breakfast at McDonald's by our local police officer, Constable Finney, for our outstanding work. Really.

I was a Computer Tutor, my years of writing ridiculous 3 line programs on my Commodore 64 having finally paid off. 

I had a temporary crush on pretty much every guy in my class except the one with the pet sticks and the one who had that icky too-short-shorts mishap at Track and Field Day. I thought Corey Hart was the bee's knees, and used to perch on top of the monkey bars at the bottom of my school field with my friends listen to his debut album on Ryan's bright yellow Sony Walkman.

I loved school. It was my life. So being torn from school and one step short of living rough was really not for me.

So my mum pulled out all the stops and tried to get me back into school. We struggled. At age 16, in my neighbourhood and with my background, the teachers assumed that my poor grades demonstrated that I would never amount to anything. In French schools, my F in English meant to them that I must not know how to speak English properly... "If she can't even speak her own language, how will she be able to function in French?". Never mind that the F was because my A+ paper (on Oedipus Rex and not How To Speak English) never made it onto my report card, or that I had been at French schools since age 4.

Despite the risk that our new location and identity would be discovered, she contacted one of the staff from my previous life, who then managed to produce a possibly slightly fudged transcript. And off to school I went. An Italian school this time, and where I was read to in English by the teacher, and where I was forced to "learn" basic french grammar that I had been using perfectly since age 7.

I lasted 2 weeks.

Seeing my anger and frustration, my mum somehow managed to convince a local college to take me on. So there I was, aged 16 and 2 months, with a measly 21% in Maths and even worse grades in Physics, and never having finished high school... starting my first day in Health Sciences at Dawson College in Montreal.

I graduated with Honours two years later, and with Distinction from my Biochemistry degree three years after that. And with stellar performance in my Bioinformatics and Management certifications after that. I guess that makes me the most highly qualified high school dropout there is!

So was it bloody hard work and blind luck? I don't know. It could have gone either way. Had I gone along the path I was headed at age 9, I would likely have been your typical small town girl, and probably a teacher. Had I continued along the path I was headed at 15 and 16, I would likely have ended up like so many others I met along the way, in a life of addiction, poverty and despair.

But just the right breaks at the right time, and here I am.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

It's all for nought!!

The kids and I had a busy day today, with lots of little treats and special adventures... we had a peek at the extension that the builders are just finishing off this week, we opened a stack of Mads' birthday presents and cheered over each one, we read our brand new picture books, and coloured in our new colouring books.

Afterwards we zoomed up the hill to find a present for a friend, and the kids helped me choose a birthday card and a card for my cousin's new baby, then had a scrummy lunch at Giraffe with friends. Afterwards they dressed up as fairies with pretty little dresses (even Danger Boy) at a friend's house and twirled around the room.
We skipped all the way back home, then had a lovely snuggle on the sofa to watch the beautiful Princess Tiana in The Princess and the Frog, and shared some toffee popcorn, a rare treat in our house! 

Later, Danger Boy helped me make cheesy pasta, and set the table all by himself.

I was pretty pleased with myself, thinking this is the sort of day that the kids will remember forever.
In walks Daddy... "so, what you have guys been up to today?"... and in chorus:


Friday, 11 March 2011

My family holiday in London

It's not every day that you get to treat yourself to a holiday in your own city. I say my own city - what I mean is my adopted city. I moved to London on the last day of April, 2000. I'd never been to England, or even Europe before and had no idea what to expect. My knowledge of Britain was restricted to the hundred or so times I watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail and countless episodes of Mr Bean with my big brother. When on Day 1 I found myself stranded in central London amid thousands of rioting anti-capitalists I had a bit of a shock to say the least!

The most bizarre thing was that I barely noticed the protesters - the roads had all been closed, so there were no cars anywhere in sight, and I was awestruck by the architecture, the juxtaposition of ancient stone buildings with shiny new ones with their almost daring use of colour and glass.

I fell in love with London, and over the next couple of years I spent my free time exploring all the hidden nooks, sprinting up the 317 steps of the Monument to take in the view, and running along the South Bank and through the City with a smile on my face.

Somewhere along the line the endless tube journeys, then grime, the overcrowding and the rain got to me. I forgot all about the London I had fallen in love with.

Last weekend I had the most incredible opportunity to rediscover that magic, with a mini weekend break on the South Bank for our family. I really want to pass that opportunity on to someone else, whether it'll be their first time visiting London, or a rediscovery like mine.

For your chance to WIN a free weekend break in London with your family, all you need to do is head over to my Facebook Fan Page or my website and share an embarassing parenting moment by midnight tonight! There are bonus entries for sharing the competition on twitter, facebook and your blog.

While you think about your embarassing moment, let me show you some photos of our little holiday...

Day 1
We wandered across Millenium Bridge and then explored the South Bank. The kids were absolutely captivated by the street performers, especially a young dancer / gymnast called Alan M Francis, who performed a mind boggling side-flip over a line of children. The picture is of him flipping over 4 children. I've posted a You Tube video of him flipping over 10 children. Wow.

Mads and Danger Boy on the South Bank
The kids amusing themselves for free for about 15 mins!!
Amazing side-flip over line of kids by street performer Alan Francis
Preschoolers captivated by this street performer's limbo

We stayed in a studio room at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge - easily the most beautiful hotel in London. It's a purpose built hotel, lovely and spacious, with breathtaking views. I cannot tell you how incredible this place is - you have to see it for yourself.

Running around the lobby of the stunning Park Plaza Westminster Bridge
Check out the view from our lift lobby!

Check out the view from our bedroom!

and the view from our living room! Wow!
Oh yes, and another view from our bedroom, looking over to the right
For dinner we headed to Yo Sushi, where we ate about a million pieces of sashimi, and where Mads tried her first ever salmon nigiri, carefully selected from the conveyor belt. Danger Boy liked his comfy space pod-style highchair and loved the mixed katsu platter and plain rice they made especially for him.

enjoying an excellent dinner at Yo Sushi

Mads trying salmon nigiri for the first time ever

In the morning it was pouring with rain, so we sprinted the 100 metres or so to the London Aquarium. We had bought our tickets online in advance so didn't have to queue up! The kids easily spent an hour looking at the stingrays - they look a bit like that stretched-face character from Doctor Who.

I got a kick out of my ticket for the London Aquarium and am saving it for that next tantrum-filled day. I wonder who or what they'll trade my child for.

Next, we met up with Nana and Grandad for a scrummy lunch at Giraffe, and then headed on to the London Eye. Danger Boy was fascinated by this unique aquarium and by the London Eye 4D experience.

Back at the room, we did a little London-themed colouring, and got a real laugh out of London's ridiculous road markings...

Next it was time to visit the Imagine Children's Festival on the South Bank - we missed the shows, but the kids had a lovely time exploring the colourful exhibits in the Clore Ballroom.

Imagine Children's Festival - cool decorations!
Danger Boy enjoys the Childrens Festival in his own way

Want a magical family weekend break in London too? Make sure you enter my competition before midnight tonight!!!

Remember, you can get bonus entries just for sharing this image on your blog or on Facebook. (but tell me you've done it!).